Last week at the 500+ Pastors Conference in New Zealand (see separate post for further details), there was an evening debate on the topic: 'Is God a Delusion?' Pastor Allan Meyer from Careforce Church presented the Christian viewpoint, looking at some of the most common evidences for the existence of God. Dr. Bill Cooke, a leading skeptic from New Zealand, presented his perspective on why he does not believe in God. The event was held in a small historical church building in the heart of Queenstown, New Zealand.
Dr. Cooke is the author of The Dictionary of Atheism, Skepticism and Humanism. He is an Honorary Associate of Rationalist International and the editor of The New Zealand Rationalist and Humanist. He was born and raised in Kenya, educated there, in the United Kingdom, and in New Zealand, where he now lives. He is a senior university lecturer in Auckland, New Zealand.
Dr. Bill Cooke and Pastor Allan Meyer each spoke for 20 minutes, then responded to each other, after which there was a time of questions from the audience that had gathered. The discussion was amicable, though it was clear that both had very different perspectives on the topic, with neither being prepared to move from their personal convictions.
As a Christian and a pastor listening in to the conversation, the saddest thing for me was to hear Dr. Cooke begin his speech by referring to two experiences he had had with Christians and churches in his younger years that were very hurtful. In fact, they turned him away from any notion of God and towards a pursuit of atheism, skepticism and humanism.
No wonder Jesus said that the world would recognise that we are his followers by our love. When people encounter love and grace through Christ-followers they are usually drawn to God. In contrast, when they encounter harshness and legalism they are often repelled from God. What a responsibility we have, those of us who carry the name of Christ.
Nicole and I had dinner with Dr. Cooke and a few others after this event. It was clear that his views of Jesus and Christianity were extremely negative. I chose not to focus on the debate or on our different perspectives, but rather to listen and learn where he was coming from. I wonder how different this man's life may have been had he had interactions with Christians characterised by genuine kindness and warmth. I went away praying that this man will somehow have a supernatural encounter that will show him how very real God is. No one is beyond the reach of God's love.